Storing away 150,00 artworks in the Louvre collection to avoid water damage from the overflowing Seine transformed the place from a public treasure house to a warehouse without public admittance. It was as if the opening of Musee Napoleon to all comers in 1802 never happened and the collection belonged to kings again. Granted, the closing is a temporary measure, but removing every painting, drawing and sculpture from public view is a reminder of how pivotal the Napoleonic era was to the Art world and how making the collection public  shifted the center of that world from Italy to France.

Louvre history is nothing to brag about.

The path to the museum’s greatness was rocky.

Former curator-in-chief Germain Bazin recounted the then-and-now story in his 1960 book “The Louvre,  exultant about the happy ending and how the museum not only became a shield from the noises of the city but also how, in its vast silence, time falls away. But seeing the place closed up and off limits to the public brings time back to its thousand-year history of bloodshed and misery, when the guillotine was set up there, when it was a fortress, a dungeon, and even an address for squatter shops.

The homeless made the museum their home.

So besides a palace where royalty lived, shopkeepers also lived, and during revolutionary days, it was abandoned to beggars. How did a place with such an untidy background become home to the likes of Mona Lisa? Enter Francis I in the 16th century when the Louvre was a palace.

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He was a collector, so his home was also a museum – for him. He hired Italy’s most celebrated artists and even got an aging Leonardo da Vinci to come to France as his guest and to bring his paintings with him. But seven kings later when Louis XIV came to the throne, there was only a handful of paintings recorded in the royal collection. So Louis, an even bigger art lover than Francis I, bought a lot of it, and by 1710, there were 2,376 paintings listed in the collection, not to mention thousands of master drawings and other works.

The public gets a say.

Of course, the story didn’t end there. When Louis moved his court to Versailles, the most valuable paintings went with him or to other royal residences, leaving the Louvre with just 90 paintings and eventually, not even that. And after a few years, only drawings were listed. That’s when the public began clamoring to see the collection and the demand for public museums arose. Comes the revolution. It was the French Revolution that opened the Louvre to the pubic, thanks to Napoleon who acquired art from wherever his conquests took him. Soon a flow of masterpieces began to arrive from Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain. and the Netherlands. And in 1870, the museum became the property of the nation. And because the overflowing Seine didn’t reach the museum and the art is safe, the story ends here. We can only hope.